x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A crunch weekend of sport ahead in the UAE

Football, athletics, rugby union, polo, American football – it's all happening in the Emirates over the next two days.

Asamoah Gyan, left, will be aiming to fire Al Ain to the Pro League title with a victory over Al Jazira tomorrow. Mike Young / The National
Asamoah Gyan, left, will be aiming to fire Al Ain to the Pro League title with a victory over Al Jazira tomorrow. Mike Young / The National

DUBAI // It is often declared that on the last Saturday of March and at the precise moment the world's richest horse race climaxes in a round of spectacular fireworks, the UAE sporting season goes into an annual period of heat-induced hibernation.

This weekend's domestic schedule, however, led by the UAE national rugby team, who get the Asian Five Nations season underway today, kicks that notion firmly into touch.

Rugby in Dubai this afternoon is complemented tomorrow by an Abu Dhabi debut for the UAE's only American football team.

Later in the evening, east of the capital, the municipality of Al Ain is hoping its league-leading football side can secure a historic 10th championship title while, back in Dubai, the country's march towards the Olympics in London gathers pace with track and field qualifiers and the national swimming championships.

The local sporting schedule, which traditionally peaks in January, has rarely been so hectic.

The last time the UAE rugby team - then called the Arabian Gulf - faced Hong Kong in a Five Nations match in this region was in 2010, where they secured an unlikely victory in Bahrain, but they have since twice been heavily beaten by their Southeast Asian counterparts.

"We expect tough competition," said Duncan Hall, the UAE coach. "We intend to make [Hong Kong] work for it and take the game to them."

While the country's rugby team played Tunisia, the UAE Falcons, an embryonic American football club, played a Turkish outfit to aid their development.

They will show their progress in an exhibition game today at Zayed Sports City as Kai Trompeter, the club's German coach, continues to take the Falcons to all the major cities in the country. He recently gauged interest in Al Ain during an open training session.

The Garden City's illustrious football club sit seven points clear at the top of the Pro League and tonight welcome Al Jazira, their rivals from the capital. Manchester, whose City and United face off on Monday night, is not the only city that features a derby with vested interests for the power-brokers of Abu Dhabi this weekend .

Yet arguably the most international of events could be impacted by what happens today in Dubai.

As the sun rises over the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex, Obaid Al Jasmi, the only Emirati swimmer to have represented his country at the Olympics, will take to the pool alongside the fancied Mubarak Salem Al Bashir at the National Swimming Championships.

Both men are hoping to prove they are deserving of the Emirates' solitary wild card for this summer's showpiece in London. The entire UAE national team will also be competing.

A few hours later, at the Dubai Police Officers' Club, the UAE hosts its first Asian Athletics Association sanctioned meet, with more than 40 athletes from 12 countries taking part. Alia Mohammed Saeed and Bethlem Desalyn, two Emirati women, will be running the 5,000m with the hope of running within the required time to qualify for London.


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